06/22/17 Drifting down the river, fly fishing in style
By John Holyoke, BDN Staff
BIG MOOSE TOWNSHIP, Maine — For the better part of an hour, Brandon Prescott peered toward shore, watched a sporadically feeding trout sip at a passing caddis fly, and tried to make the perfect cast.
“You’ve got to get it right in there,” guide Dan Legere said. “Six inches off the shore. That’s where he lives.”
It was. But getting the imitation caddis fly to the right spot wasn’t easy. First, a brisk upstream breeze that threatened to blow his casts into the cedar tree that leaned over the East Outlet of the Kennebec River. And second, when the fly did end up in the right place, the finicky trout paid little attention.
Legere smiled, switched flies, and kept offering guidance and praise.
And finally, after dozens of nice casts and a few perfect ones, Prescott gave his guide reason to celebrate, setting the hook on a gentle strike and bringing the 14-inch fish to net.
“Nice job,” Legere said, as he surely has said thousands of times in his guiding career. “We worked for that one.”
Prescott, an avid angler who won the BDN’s 15th annual “Win a Drift Boat Trip Contest,” posed for a photo, smiled, and released the fish back into the river. Then he turned his attention back to fishing.
There were miles of river to explore, after all. And many more fish to catch.
That was the plan, anyway. The trout and salmon may have had another idea.
A man and a river
The BDN began offering a guided trip with Legere back in 2003, and the promotion has proved popular over the ensuing years.
Mike Horvers was the first winner of the BDN’s “Win a Drift Boat Trip” contest back in 2003. Others followed: Jason McCubbin in 2004, Doug Saunders in 2005, Tom Nichols in 2006, James Rolph in 2007, Dick Fortier in 2008, Tiffany Shepard in 2010, Don Factor in 2011, Jasper Walsh in 2012, John Craig in 2013, Byron Hale in 2014, Harvey Siebert in 2015 and John St. Onge in 2016. In 2009, the prize was not given, as the winner could not find a date that fit into their schedule.
The tradition: On Father’s Day, Legere hosts the lucky winner and a BDN outdoors writer, and spends the day floating down a river he knows intimately.
Legere has owned Maine Guide Fly Shop in nearby Greenville for 35 years, and for the last 25, he has been taking his drift boat down the East Outlet.
“I’ll probably be on the water over 100 days,” Legere said. “I get up to the West Branch [of the Penobscot River] for a couple of weeks, but probably 70, 75 days, [I’m] here.”
That familiarity leads to to situations like the one that unfolded on Sunday: Legere knew a fish was apt to be lurking under the roots of that cedar, and he also knew it would take an accomplished fly caster to make the necessary cast.
The fish was there and Prescott was up to the task.
Legere says he was the second guide in Maine to make use of a drift boat, which are popular on legendary rivers in Montana and other western states.
Those flat-bottomed, stable casting platforms helped change the way Maine fly fishers fished, he said.
“It was all about trolling [35 years ago]. Everyone had a boat and everyone trolled,” Legere said. “We did a little wade fishing in the rivers, and we did a lot of pond fishing, too. We had canoes all over the place … and we hiked in everyplace. Everybody pond fished. But when the drift boat came along, all that changed.”
Legere said in the early days of his fly shop, the busiest day was always the first Saturday after ice-out on Moosehead Lake, when anglers from around the state would tow their boats to town and begin trolling.
“They’d just kick our door down,” Legere said.
But now, that’s not the case. And he doesn’t expect the trend away from trolling to change in the coming years.
“It’s a generational thing, too. There’s not another generation of trollers coming along,” Legere said. “Everybody wants to be on moving water. There’s not any call for [guiding] pond fishing. There’s the green drake hatch coming up, but those guys who fish the green drake hatch don’t need me.”
But fly fishers who want to float down the river on a drift boat?
They’re the ones that keep Legere and the other area guides hopping when the best fishing is going on in May, June, September and October.
A predictable day
As this nine-hour drift began, Legere hinted that the day’s fishing might get challenging. While Prescott eventually coaxed the trout from its hiding spot, conditions soon changed drastically.
Caddis flies had begun to hatch, he explained. And though fish love to eat the flies, on any given day, many different varieties of caddis could emerge as the fish’s favorite food. Some have bright green bodies. Others, olive, or brown.
“At caddis time, you can only hope that the same fly works two days in a row,” Legere said.
One other thing you can hope for: That you’re not on the water on the one day a year when the entire river explodes with hatching caddis.
And that’s exactly what happened on Sunday.
“There are two really predictable days out here. One is the first day of the Hendrickson hatch, when every fish on the river is making a glutton of himself. If you have even a facsimile of a Hendrickson and you drift it by them, he’s gonna eat it,” Legere said.
“The second day is today. That is, the massive, blanket hatch of caddis when you become an observer and not really a participant,” he said. “Too much food in the water. When it starts up, there’s some activity, but it builds and builds and builds and you have a hard time [attracting a fish to an imitation fly].”
In the air above the boat, caddis flies buzzed back and forth for much of the morning. On the water, the females hopped along the surface, laying eggs. And floating past the boat, the “shucks” of caddis exoskeletons littered the surface.
Luckily for Prescott, Legere has seen this day — the day there’s so much natural food that it’s difficult to fool a fish — for 25 years now. And he had a backup plan.
“We’re going bass fishing,” he said with a laugh, explaining that downriver, where it empties into Indian Pond, the bass wouldn’t be worrying about caddis, and would likely be willing to participate even if the trout and landlocked salmon weren’t.
“I always keep some poppers in here with me, and we’ll go see if we can’t rustle up a bass,” he said, referring to the large, surface flies that bass sometimes attack with abandon. “I hate to concede to fish in the river, but I’ve seen this happen every year.”
An hour later, after catching several hard-fighting bass, Prescott was OK with the decision to move on.
And he was already looking forward to later this month.
Before he found out that he’d won this year’s drift boat contest, Prescott had booked a trip of his own with Legere, and he was eager to spend another day on the guide’s home water.